Review: My Name is Jimi, Melbourne International Arts Festival

A joyous celebration of community; a warmhearted and generous theatrical production; a clarion call about the necessity of maintaining culture.
Review: My Name is Jimi, Melbourne International Arts Festival

Agnes, Jimi and Petharie Bani in My Name is Jimi. Image via festival.melbourne.

The susurration of waves on an island beach washes through the theatre, a soft counterpoint to the audience’s pre-show chatter and an immediate evocation of place. Around the rear of the stage, glass display cases are mounted on the wall, their contents – a pair of axes, a model aeroplane, a feathered headdress – simultaneously objects of cultural significance and suggestive of the lens through which most audience members will be accustomed to viewing such artefacts.

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The great strength of this Queensland Theatre production, created by the Bani family and directed and co-created with Jason Klarwein, is that it provides a new perspective.

As the lights dim, a traditional welcome mat is laid on the stage by Agnes Bani as her mother, Petharie, sons Jimi, Conwell and Richard, and grandson Dmitri look on.

Performed by four generations of the Bani family, My Name is Jimi is a celebration of community; a warm-hearted and generous theatrical production; a stirring and transporting clarion call about the importance of maintaining culture.

Actor Jimi Bani (The Sapphires, The Shadow King and television’s Mabo and Redfern Now) is soon to become the ninth Chief of the Wagadagam tribe on Mabuiag Island, in the Torres Strait. One day his son, Dmitri will be the 10th. But how to preserve the culture of the island in an era where teenagers are glued to their mobile phones instead of listening to the stories told by their elders?

Utilising direct audience address, inventive use of miniature sets, puppets and cameras, and archival footage alongside live song and dance, My Name is Jimi gives audiences a crash course in Mabuiag Island culture – and yes, there is a quiz.

The challenges of keeping culture alive are explored through comedy – with Jimi Bani revelling in the role of ‘expert’ English anthropologist A.C. Haddon – and more sombrely through revelations about broken promises and artefacts held in museums overseas.

Central to proceedings is Jimi’s grandfather, the late Ephraim Bani – a chieftain whose passion for his culture saw him study linguistics in Canada (at a time when Australia was much less welcoming of its First Peoples and their stories) in order to ensure his culture’s survival.

Jimi’s late father, Adhi Dimple Bani, inherited that role and his absence from this production is palpable and deeply felt.

‘There’s a fire, a bright flame that was lit in the past, it is still burning but the woods are burning out. My job is to put new woods in to keep the fire burning,’ says Bani, quoting his father.

The great strength of this deeply generous production is that it doesn’t just show us what the Bani family’s culture is – it makes us feel their culture's richness and importance, emotionally and intellectually. We are all warmed by the flames which Jimi and his family tend so lovingly.

4 ½ stars

My Name is Jimi
A Queensland Theatre production
Based on a story by Dimple Bani and Jimi Bani
Co-created with Jason Klarwein
Director: Jason Klarwein
Designer: Simona Cosentini and Simone Tesorieri
Lighting Designer: Daniel Anderson
Sound and Projection Designer: Justin Harrison
Cast: Dmitri Ahwang-Bani, Agnes Bani, Conwell Bani, Jimi Bani, Petharie Bani and Richard Bani

Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
4-7 October 2018

Melbourne International Arts Festival
www.festival.melbourne
3-21 October 2018

No image supplied

Richard Watts

Sunday 7 October, 2018